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A long bar framed in yellow is joined by an exposed ceiling and cement flooring.
El Rey’s new industrial-styled outpost in Ballston resembles the original in Shaw.
Mykl Wu/El Rey

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Order Margaritas from a 50-Foot Bar at Ballston’s Color-Soaked El Rey

Shaw’s popular taqueria expands across state lines on Monday, December 20

Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Shaw’s El Rey makes its long-awaited Ballston debut next week, granting the growing millennial neighborhood a graffiti-splashed spot to wash down reliable tacos with tequila cocktails.

D.C. restaurateurs Ian and Eric Hilton import their 7-year-old Mexican mainstay off U Street NW to the Ballston Exchange project on Monday, December 20 (4201 Wilson Boulevard), with daily lunch, dinner, and late-night service out of the gate. Hours are Sunday to Thursday, from 11 a.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

El Rey capitalizes on America’s birria taco boom with an entire section devoted to the cheesy, beefy dish dunked in cups of greasy consomme. Variations include a torta, burrito, quesadilla, and papas birria nachos described as “Mexican cheese fries with all the extras.”

There are 10 types of tacos to choose from, each served on flour or corn tortillas ($3-$4). A “DC Taco” piles on panko-coated fried chicken breast strips, crispy potato frites, homemade mambo sauce, and cilantro. El Rey Ballston debuts a lineup of tortas featuring proteins like shrimp, al pastor, and chicken Milanese.

The D.C. taqueria’s sophomore location stars a 50-foot bar spanning the length of the dining room, outfitted with multiple margarita stations to pour six options by the glass or pitcher. There’s a frozen mezcal variety, Paloma, and “Lucha Libre” (jalapeño-infused Hornitos Plata, mango, triple sec, lime juice and agave nectar), served on the rocks or frozen.

Familiar design elements include cement flooring and bright bar backsplashes fashioned out of shipping containers.
Mykl Wu/El Rey

The beer list shows love for Mexican and local breweries, with a dozen on tap and eight by the bottle that can be turned into a michelada for $1 more. The bar also serves spiked Mexican hot chocolate, wines, and sangrias.

The D.C.-centric hospitality group (American Ice Company, Crimson, Players Club) entered the Northern Virginia market last summer with the opening of French bistro Cafe Colline along Lee Highway.

El Rey patrons can swing by a separate takeout area called Lucha Libre for grab-and-go orders. Local artist Mike Pacheco spruced up cement walls with animated accents out of a graphic novel.

A colorful mural of Mexican wrestlers wearing masks.
A lucha libre-themed wall depicts masked Mexican wrestlers in action.
Mykl Wu/El Rey

Arlington’s taco scene got an additional boost this month with the arrival of NYC’s trendy Mexican chain Tacombi in National Landing.

The cavernous setup at El Rey.
The 6,290-square-foot taqueria features tile-topped wood tables and colorful bar stools.
Mykl Wu/El Rey
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